Why Marketing Can’t Get Anything Done

Nov 30, 1998

I have found myself saying more than once recently that just about every firm (would you believe 80-90%+?) is looking for someone to work in their marketing area. Whether it’s a marketing manager, marketing director, marketing coordinator, or business development person varies from firm to firm. But the constant remains— as an industry we need help with marketing! The reason firms are unhappy with their marketing people is that they aren’t getting anything done. We hear complaints about how marketing can’t get the people and project database up to date. Or how it takes them three years to put out a brochure. Or how marketing “never makes a sale.” Or how marketing gets out only one press release a year. Or how marketing needs to hire consultants any time the firm asks them to do something more than prepare an RFP response package or draw up a project organization chart for an upcoming presentation. We hear these complaints, and more. But truthfully, it’s not that hard to figure out why marketing cannot meet management’s expectations: The marketing staff turnover rate is too high. Marketing people these days have the life expectancy of Vietnam-era helicopter door gunners! In other words, they don’t last long. There are a lot of reasons for this. One big one is that these people tend to have great networks, so they know a lot of folks who could employ them. But the bottom line is this turnover means that they are constantly ramping up, learning the firm’s culture, what it does, and who there can give them information. Things then take longer than they should, in some cases, to get done. Marketers don’t feel appreciated by their employers and their fellow employees. Many architects, engineers, and scientists, and especially the rank and file employees, can’t understand how anyone who is not “one of their own” is really necessary. I mean, if you aren’t billable, you don’t work, right? This kills their morale and their productivity. The culture of the firm is such that the principals have to review everything. Look in the mirror, folks, if you want to see one of the biggest causes of poor marketing department output. Their hands are tied! Firms have so many bureaucratic processes for review, re-review, and re-re-review of all written marketing materials that jobs that should take eight hours end up taking eight months!! Then the marketing people get beaten down and the productivity goes to Hell! Having someone else review the marketing department’s work is fine— but don’t get everyone to do it. I just got back from a consulting visit to one of these companies. And what I found out is that their marketing materials got worse, not better, when too many people looked at them and made their “contribution.” No one in the firm knows how to manage marketing people. Marketing people, particularly sales people, probably do best when other marketing or business people manage them. But in most A/E or environmental firms, marketing people are working for design or technically trained managers. And they don’t understand things like marketing activity goals and reports. They don’t keep the heat on the marketing or business development staff to make calls, get out and see people, and put out a lot of proposals. These are the activities that eventually lead to a sale and they must go on even if the short-term results (sales) aren’t good. The marketers aren’t the right people. It’s dangerous to make this statement because firms use it as a cop-out all of the time. “We don’t have the right people over in the (blank) department.” But many times, when it’s made in reference to marketing people, it’s true. The problem is that we keep recirculating the staff from other firms in our business when what we really may need is someone from outside of this industry. These outsiders are often more creative and don’t think of all of the reasons why something cannot be done. There are other reasons why marketers aren’t getting enough done. The expectations of the firm may be unrealistic. They are overloaded in terms of proposals that they have to put out leaving little time for anything else. They may not have the tools they need in terms of cellular phones or database software. And last but not least, your marketing staff may be getting more done than you think. If you aren’t measuring marketing results achieved in a variety of ways (sales, new clients, new calls coming in, proposal hit rate, etc.), you don’t know what your marketing people are getting done. Think about that. Originally published 11/30/1998

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